Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Guest author Amanda Heger: Yes, Please: Ten Things Amy Poehler Taught Me About Publishing

Amanda Heger
Amanda Heger is a writer, attorney, and bookworm. She lives in the Midwest with three unruly rescue dogs and a husband who encourages her delusions of grandeur. Her debut romance, Without Borders, is available now from Diversion Books. The story was inspired by the summer Amanda spent in rural Nicaragua, eating gallo pinto, speaking mangled Spanish, and showing high school students how to slide condoms onto over-sized plantains.

Yes, Please: Ten Things Amy Poehler Taught Me About Publishing

Note: If you haven’t read Poehler’s Yes, Please you should. One part memoir, one part self-help, and one part funny pictures, it’s a balm for a creative person’s soul. And being involved in publishing guarantees you’ll need some soul-soothing at some point in the game.

10. Your Phone Does Not Want You to Finish That Manuscript
We’ve all been there. You sit down, cue up your playlist, and open your manuscript. “I’ll just check Twitter,” you murmur to that seductive little bird. “Give me five minutes.” Three hours later, you’ve checked your email ten times, Twitter-stalked every agent on your query list, and looked up your ex-boyfriend’s mug shot. Stop. Turn your phone to airplane mode if you have to, but get off the Internet and write.

9. It’s Easier to Be Brave When You’re Not Alone
You sit down at your computer—with your coffee or your tea or your Sour Patch Kids—and you make some stuff up. Easy, right? But wait. Now you’re supposed to let other people read it. You’re supposed to ask them if your stuff is good or bad or full of passive voice. Holy terrifying, Batman. Find writer friends. Friends who are also waving their stuff around for everyone to see. You’ll be amazed at how much braver you become.

8. You Don’t Always Have to Win to Get the (Contest) Pudding
It seems like every week there’s a new contest. They’re all this weird, amazing mash up of hope and excitement and horror. You might final. You might not. You might get ten requests. You might not. IT DOESN’T MATTER. If it’s a pitch contest, make friends with others who are pitching. If you like them, con them into being your critique partners. If you get feedback on your pages, focus on strengthening your story. That’s real pudding.

7. Nice Manners Are the Not-So-Secret Keys to the Universe
Be polite. Be professional. No one wants to work with a jerk.

6. Listen, (Wait) and Say Yes
You’ve written something. You love it. It’s made of your sweat and blood and all that wine you spilled on your printer. Then you give it to your critique partner/agent/editor, and they tell you all sorts of things about it. Heavy things. Things that make you want to light your laptop on fire and roast marshmallows over its remains.

Listen to what they’re saying. Don’t try to rationalize or explain. Just listen. Wait—a day, a week, a month—however long it takes to dull the pain. Then say yes to the things that stuck with you, even if they’re heavy. Even if they mean a lot more work than you ever intended. Because, let’s face it, writing is always a lot more work than you ever intended.

5. Good for Her, Not for Me
I know people who write entire manuscripts in a weekend. I know people who take years to finish a first draft. I know someone who got an agent after sending out five queries. I know someone who found an agent after a hundred queries. There are as many paths to publishing as there are writers. Find what works for you and embrace it.

4.  Learn to Stomach Other People Not Stomaching You
You’ll work on your story for months, agonizing over every word choice. You’ll get three new gray hairs and do enough research to end up on some kind of Homeland Security watch list. Doesn’t matter. Someone’s going to think it’s dull. Someone else is going to hate it. Your own editor might cut out all of your that’s-what-she-said jokes. (*waves to editor*) It’s okay. Take a deep breath. Go read some one-star reviews for your favorite books and remind yourself that art is subjective.

3. Great People Do Things Before They Are Ready
If you’re like me, you’re never going to feel ready. Not for querying, not for submission, not for seeing your book in other people’s hands. The story will never be perfect enough. It will never be everything you want it to be. At some point, you’ve just got to jump and hope you land on your feet.

2. Learn to Live With Your Demon
Every writer has a demon—that sometimes too loud voice that reminds you of your worst flaws. Maybe your demon sounds like Kathleen Turner. Smooth and edgy and a little bit sexy. Unfortunately, mine sounds like Gilbert Gottfried. “Your writing isn’t commercial enough,” he says. (Every. Single. Day.) “There aren’t any [rock stars/body guards/alpha heroes/take your pick]. You think someone will buy this? Ha. Not even your mother will read this.”

I’m learning to treat him like the drunk uncle at Christmas. I give him enough attention to make sure he’s still breathing, but not much more. “Yeah, yeah.” I keep typing. (Always keep typing.) “I know there aren’t any rock stars, but I’m busy writing this scene set in a nursing home bathroom. I’m having fun, so remind me how no one will want it later. Thanks, bye.”

1. Treat Publishing Like a Bad Boyfriend
Publishing isn’t the same as storytelling. The drive to tell stories—through books or songs or TV—is
what keeps most writers going. It gets us through day jobs and illness and all that crap we call being adults.

Publishing is another beast all together. It’ll whisper sweet nothings in your ear one minute and punch you in the ovaries the next.  When things are good, they’re perfect. But there will always be a younger, prettier author with a movie deal waiting in the wings. (Her book will probably be full of sexy rock stars.) Don’t give publishing all your attention and energy. Don’t forget about the things you love. And remember, if things get too bad, you can always go sleep with somebody else.

Maybe even a rock star.
Without Borders by Amanda Heger
Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

What we tell the reader.

Late in the day as I type this. Sunday, Fathers’ Day here in the USofA, and I wasn’t as focused on producing my monthly column as perhaps I should have been. (Which, in my native southern dialect is rendered: might should've been.) Local family members produced my favorite dinner – grilled steak, grilled veggies, potato baked on the grill, crunchy rolls, and un-grilled salad. My son - who these days lives too far away to get down here and celebrated at his home with his wife and daughter - posted a testimonial on Facebook about what my example had taught him about being a husband and father. Mostly it had to do with responsibility.

This got me thinking about responsibility as a writer. Not the responsibility to meet deadlines or produce columns in a timely manner, that’s more a reliability issue. I mean our responsibility to use our craft well. Not just in telling a story, but in the stories we tell. Our words have impact, as anyone who’s been furious at a fictional injustice or mourned the death of a fictional character can tell you. We as writers can have unintended effect on our readers.

I was discussing this online with fellow writer Jason Hansa a few weeks ago. Jason and I have written paired stories before – the same battle told from opposing sides in self-contained, stand-alone narratives for BattleCorps, an online publisher of military sci-fi. (How a radical left-wing tree hugging do-gooder built a name and career in military sci-fi is a topic for another column.)

This time around we are both part of a shared-narrative anthology: a chronological collection of stories following a single BattleMech (think giant, walking tank) from its construction through its career in a dozen militaries and two centuries of war until its eventual destruction. Two dozen combat stories would be a bit monotonous, so the battle stories are leavened with an espionage story (mine), a medic’s story, a mechanic’s story, a murder, a romance, a divorce, and – I think – a conscientious objector. All of us on the project keep in loose contact to ensure continuity and keep the through narrative building from story to story.

Jason and I were chatting on FB, as is our wont, about elements of our respective tales. I was debating how explicit the torture of a civilian should be and he was wondering whether his recipe for an improvised weapon should be accurate.

“After all,” he said, “we don’t want to give our readers any ideas.”

“Right,” I agreed. “We’re not writing erotica.”

Later, while working on the second volume of my Dirt and Stars YA series it occurred to me that giving our readers ideas is a lot of what we do, no matter what the genre.
In my story of how young people deal with exclusion, elitism, racism (from both sides), and trauma I strive to model for readers who have hopefully not yet been damaged irreparably by these forces how to get through one undramatic, heroic, baby step at a time.
In my military sci-fi I tell stories of courage, loyalty, commitment, sacrifice, integrity, and fear in which combat – impending, happening, or in aftermath – provides context; is the medium through which these themes are examined.
Romances – the ones I like – are about identity, integrity, and commitment. (So, like military sci-fi with fewer ray guns.)
Crime – with the exception of cozies and puzzles – is often about victims overcoming trauma, defenders sacrificing for the sake of others, coming to terms with self, or redefining/rebuilding self in the face of change.
This list could go on for quite a while, but you see the point I’m making.

Of course a lot of stories are just stories. Entertainment. Escapes. Respites.
But even the lightest tale carries in its narrative DNA elements that the writer cannot help but pass along to readers. Assumptions about culture, right and wrong, good and evil (which is often completely different), the value of humanity – a hundred elements of ourselves and the people, the culture, and family that shaped us.
It’s no good trying to not pass along our intellectual/spiritual/personal DNA. It’s who we are and the only way to keep ourselves off the page is to never write. But being aware of what we’re doing – of what parts of us we share and how we share them – can give our writing a focus and effectiveness beyond the mechanics and art of our craft.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Having Fun With My Readers: "Where's My Book?"

A few years ago, I saw something that actor/writer Wil Wheaton was doing in conjunction with the release of his new book. The idea was simple: Ask his readers to take a picture with his book in some cool place, and share it with him.

At the time, I remember thinking, "Hey! My readers are totally hip and cool. Surely they'd be game for something like this, right?" And with that, the concept of "Where's My Book?" was born.

I made a few changes to the basic idea. First, I didn't care which of my books the reader wanted to use. It could be my most recent release, but it's always fun to see a new reader finding one of my older titles, or maybe they're just a fan of a particular book and that's the one they want in the picture. I'm down with it. Next, I put a time limit on things. Readers have until the July 24th. That way, I'd have time to conduct a poll and let people select their favorites. Once we do that, I'll have a few lucky winners who'll get a prize. In this case, it's advance reader copies of the book I've got coming out in August.

In years past, I've had a lot of fun with this. Some folks really get into it. I had one fan who lives in Las Vegas, and he drove all the way out to the notorious "Area 51" for pictures with one of my books and the signs on the installations fence line. Anothe reader who volunteers time to one of the Star Trek fan films took pictures of one of my books on the various recreated U.S.S. Enterprise sets they use for filming. Those are actually a little surreal, given the attention to detail imbued in a soundstage that was first constructed over fifty years ago.

This year's contest is currently underway, and I've already got a couple of choice shots from my cousin, who took a book to Devil's Tower in Wyoming (aka, "the mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind"). And we're just getting started!

So, if you're looking for an easy, fun way to socialize with you readers and do a little bit of stealth promotion, here you go. :)

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Universe of Novel Spaces

I’ve been thinking a lot about Novel Spaces, especially since Liane brought up that the site might be threatened by disbandment. Some of us have become lax at meeting deadlines, myself included. They seem to sneak up, don’t they? I know I should work ahead of time and just set the date for publication. It’s not that I’m not disorganized (well, kinda) but often the ideas don’t pop into my head until the deadline looms, usually the night before. On the plus side, the results is  often more topical than generalized. And, many times what I write about is something that’s been like an irritation under my skin that I just gotta scratch in public.

I have a lot of writing obligations and commitments. It seems every day I have a homework assignment, just like high school. I can grumble, but I remind myself that I created this career, I worked hard for it and I have fans. I love that readers respond to my words. I don’t write fluff, definitely not for this blogsite. I wanted to lead where I could. I have ideas for promotion I wanted to test. I wanted to have an impact on the writing life of others, even more so now with my health so iffy.

I don’t have a personal blog, I realized early on how exhausting it would be to keep fresh. But, I never rushed to belong to many group blogs. This is the only one I actively pursued for inclusion. I have been convinced to blog for a friend who runs Buried Under Books, but I don’t post about writerly stuff over there. It’s more of a reader’s site. The fact that I get a high number of hits from my blogs that appear here tells me I’m doing something right. Also, I know how to promote my work here.

I signed with Novel Spaces for one simple reason—I like this group. I like the racial and cultural diversity. I like the people behind the words. I enjoy the variety of topics and level of discussion. Nobody over-intellectualizes. Nobody dominates. I’ve never seen anyone get riled as I’ve seen on other sites. I feel I can be myself and any grammar or typos will be forgiven. I don’t feel judged. I feel embraced. Out of respect for all of you, I try to showcase the best I have to offer.

Blogging may be saturating the Internet but I know there would be an empty space in my life if Novel Spaces disappeared.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Retirement Can Change Your Life - Or Someone Else's Life

Retirement. That word means different things to different people. And it means different things to an individual at different times of his or her life.

Some see it as an opportunity to travel, to go places time has not permitted in the past. Others see it as a time to kick back and do nothing, watch more TV, read more books, get in a daily siesta, join a coffee klatch with other retirees, or have no schedule at all.

How many retirees use the additional free time to improve their golf game, or develop a better bridge game. Others use the new-found time to work with charitable organization.

But some choose to use their skills to train or otherwise help people in need.

Sylvia had begun sewing as a child, making her own doll clothes. She continued as an adult, making her husband's suits, ties and shirts. After awhile, Sylvia Remple began teaching sewing and eventually opened a clothing manufacturing business. It grew quickly and before long she had three hundred employees. In 1982, her company, Sun Ice, outfitted the first team of Canadians to conquer Mount Everest. Two years later, her company was awarded the contract to outfit many Canadian teams for the Winter Olympics in Los Angles. Following that success, Sun Ice became the Official Clothing Supplier to the Winter Olympics hosted by Canada.

In 2001, Sylvia Remple sold the business. Retirement. What to do now?

About the same time, she became aware of the poverty in Sierra Leone and in particular, the desperate circumstances for some women. She came up with an idea.

Sylvia and daughters Tammy and Angela formed Sewing Seeds International - SSI. Its mandate was to create self sustaining sewing schools in impoverished areas, empowering women, bringing hope for a better future.

The first project was in Sierra Leone. SSI secured backing from some companies, purchased sewing machines and materials. In Sierra Lione, they found a place to hold classes, then advertised for women who wanted to learn a skill that would help them toward a better future.

The classes were intense. Sylvia also realized that to keep attendance and attention at a high level, the school must provide care for the many young children of the students. So, day care was provided, including meals.

At the end of the three week classes, the machines were left in the classrooms and the women were encouraged to continue working on their sewing skills.

A few months later, these same women were given another three-week school, introducing them to more advanced skills. Again, the machines were left for the students to practice and make clothes for their children and themselves.

A third course was offered. Now, the students were capable of using patterns and making items for sale. But most important for the Sewing Seeds mandate, the best students were trained so they could teach classes to other women.

The success of the school encouraged SSI to move into other countries. Classes have been given in Africa, Europe, South America, and Mexico.

Has it been successful?

Absolutely. All can make clothes for their families. Many of the women now make a decent living sewing for others. Several have formed companies to manufacture clothes. One graduate now has a company with eight other women working, all making a decent living. Graduates of another school formed a co-op which now has a contract to supply all the uniforms for a school system in a nearby larger town.
Because they are set up to be self-sustaining, these schools should bear fruit for years to come. The Canadian government has recognized SSI as a certified charitable organization. In many places around the world, SSI is recognized as a life-saver.

Is Sylvia bored in her retirement? Not even a little. Her compensation? Seeing impoverished women now able to be self-supporting, infused with hope for a brighter future. That's better than a paycheck.

What is her retirement? To help others.

While going into extremely poor, perhaps desperate, areas may not seem like a fun thing to do in retirement, it must be extremely rewarding and give one a true sense of worth that a game of golf probably won't.

Sylvia would tell you she has found the perfect retirement.

What do you see for yourself in retirement?

James R. Callan has chosen writing for his retirement. A Silver Medallion, his eleventh published book, released this week. 

"A Silver Medallion is a gripping, action-packed adventure from talented author James Callan. Crystal Moore is a tough and savvy heroine ..."

New York Times Bestselling Author Bobbi Smith

Saturday, June 4, 2016

New Release - The Mind of a Man: 365 Relationship Scenario Discussion Questions

Please allow me to post this month about the release of my upcoming non-fiction title, The Mind of a Man: 365 Relationship Scenario Discussion Questions

I was debating what to post, and then I remembered that the release date for The Mind of a Man is in three days, so I decided to do a little promo post, and also try to make it fun.

The Mind of a Man is the follow-up to The Mind of a Woman: 365 Relationship Scenario Discussion Questions, which was released in September of 2014. 

For both titles, I've used questions that I've posted on social media over the years, and a lot of questions that I came up with on my own specifically for the titles, as well as some anonymous scenarios that my FB friends have asked.

These two titles are indeed all questions, but the best part thus far, for The Mind of a Woman in particular, has been allowing readers, callers (via radio shows), those in the audience of a book event, during book club meetings, or even with my family and friends, to simply pick a random number between 1 and 365, and that would be the number that the individual would answer, and if anyone else wanted to chime in, they could as well. 

The books are indeed fun, and they breed great discussions about relationships, which is my favorite topic. I once hosted a talk show in Los Angeles called The Opposite Sex, and just as I enjoyed posing questions to my guests, I really do think that the reactions to questions from The Mind of a Man and The Mind of a Woman make for great debates, and in some ways, can change an individual's way of thinking. But the most important thing is to be open to everyone's personal views, without trying to change anyone's mind.

So, I thought I'd post some questions here. The questions are directed to men, but if anyone, male or female, would like to post a reply to one or more in the comment section, it should make for some good exchanges.

Question: #20 - Your fourteen year-old daughter hates your new girlfriend. Now what? Would it be different if your daughter was thirty?

Question #145 - Could you date you?

Question #154 - Can a woman teach her son how to be a man? Why, or why not?

Questions #163 -  Which body part would you insure for a million dollars, and why?

Question #182 - Once a cheater, always a cheater. True or false?

Question #226 - Is monogamy learned over time or is it natural?

Question #365 - Is it ever a woman's fault if a man cheats? (i.e., alienation of affection, too busy with her career, only gives her time to the kids, etc.)

The Mind of a Man: 365 Relationship Scenario Discussion Questions officially releases on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, and is available on Amazon, both in ebook and trade formats. I hope you will check it out, or tell a friend. Link:  THE MIND OF A MAN Amazon link. My website address is:

Thanks so much for allowing me this opportunity, my fellow scribes. Looking forward to future titles from us all. Write on!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Positive motivation of the day

Coming off a themed blog is always hard. Who can compete with a dozen writers’ varying take on one topic? It was interesting enough to tempt me to purchase a copy of Stephen King’s “On Writing” that won hands down as the favorite writing book for most novelnauts, and “The Writing Life” which Susan sold me on. As I was digging hard to find something to blog about today, I stumbled across this on my laptop:

When you’re depressed and frustrated with the task at hand or the situation you’re in, think of your successes of the past. It would help you deal with the failures of today.

It couldn’t have been more appropriate. Book sales lower than expected, cancellation of a summer teaching gig and a few missed employment opportunities I was really feeling like a failure. It was as if I had chosen the two most frustrating careers that required the most preparation. Then I saw the quote. I don’t remember if it was my original or if I copied and pasted from somewhere, but it uplifted me. 

As I reflected on my past successes I noted they were not without obstacles. Whether it was my quest for an education, my goal to be a published author or my desire to have a family, I had to overcome obstacles. In fact, the more difficult the obstacle, the greater and more satisfying the success.

It’s easy for us as writers to sink into the doldrums when the book we spent so many years writing and trying to get published isn’t  selling. We can curse Amazon, the omnipresent giver and taker of earnings and market share. We can throw a pity party blaming ourselves for not doing things properly. We can pull out our hair, if we have any left, wondering what we could do to increase sales. And often times it leaves us feeling like failures. Sometimes we feel like we’re ready to give up on publishing if not writing. And when we see the brick and mortar book stores and the large publishing houses falling like flies, it reinforces our feelings that writing is a waste of time.

It’s times like these that we need to go back and ponder the successes of our past whether small or great. Whatever difficulties we’re going through now we will realize that we are not failures, but the difficulties are hurdles that we must overcome to be successful.

So if I can inspire any author right now (and I know there are lots of you out there) to get out of the doldrums of depression and frustration, I’ll be more than happy. I leave this quote with you:

When you’re depressed and frustrated with the task at hand or the situation you’re in, think of your successes of the past. It would help you deal with the failures of today.